Search tips
Search criteria

Results 1-25 (781719)

Clipboard (0)

Related Articles

1.  Characterization, Localization, Essentiality, and High-Resolution Crystal Structure of Glucosamine 6-Phosphate N-Acetyltransferase from Trypanosoma brucei ▿ ‡ § 
Eukaryotic Cell  2011;10(7):985-997.
A gene predicted to encode Trypanosoma brucei glucosamine 6-phosphate N-acetyltransferase (TbGNA1; EC was cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli. The recombinant protein was enzymatically active, and its high-resolution crystal structure was obtained at 1.86 Å. Endogenous TbGNA1 protein was localized to the peroxisome-like microbody, the glycosome. A bloodstream-form T. brucei GNA1 conditional null mutant was constructed and shown to be unable to sustain growth in vitro under nonpermissive conditions, demonstrating that there are no metabolic or nutritional routes to UDP-GlcNAc other than via GlcNAc-6-phosphate. Analysis of the protein glycosylation phenotype of the TbGNA1 mutant under nonpermissive conditions revealed that poly-N-acetyllactosamine structures were greatly reduced in the parasite and that the glycosylation profile of the principal parasite surface coat component, the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), was modified. The significance of results and the potential of TbGNA1 as a novel drug target for African sleeping sickness are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3147419  PMID: 21531872
2.  Galactose Starvation in a Bloodstream Form Trypanosoma brucei UDP-Glucose 4′-Epimerase Conditional Null Mutant 
Eukaryotic Cell  2006;5(11):1906-1913.
Galactose metabolism is essential for the survival of Trypanosoma brucei, the etiological agent of African sleeping sickness. T. brucei hexose transporters are unable to transport galactose, which is instead obtained through the epimerization of UDP-glucose to UDP-galactose catalyzed by UDP-glucose 4′-epimerase (galE). Here, we have characterized the phenotype of a bloodstream form T. brucei galE conditional null mutant under nonpermissive conditions that induced galactose starvation. Cellular levels of UDP-galactose dropped rapidly upon induction of galactose starvation, reaching undetectable levels after 72 h. Analysis of extracted glycoproteins by ricin and tomato lectin blotting showed that terminal β-d-galactose was virtually eliminated and poly-N-acetyllactosamine structures were substantially reduced. Mass spectrometric analysis of variant surface glycoprotein confirmed complete loss of galactose from the glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor. After 96 h, cell division ceased, and electron microscopy revealed that the cells had adopted a morphologically distinct stumpy-like form, concurrent with the appearance of aberrant vesicles close to the flagellar pocket. These data demonstrate that the UDP-glucose 4′-epimerase is essential for the production of UDP-galactose required for galactosylation of glycoproteins and that galactosylation of one or more glycoproteins, most likely in the lysosomal/endosomal system, is essential for the survival of bloodstream form T. brucei.
PMCID: PMC1694802  PMID: 17093269
3.  Trypanosoma brucei UDP-Glucose:Glycoprotein Glucosyltransferase Has Unusual Substrate Specificity and Protects the Parasite from Stress▿ §  
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;8(2):230-240.
In this paper, we describe the range of N-linked glycan structures produced by wild-type and glucosidase II null mutant bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei parasites and the creation and characterization of a bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei UDP-glucose:glycoprotein glucosyltransferase null mutant. These analyses highlight peculiarities of the Trypanosoma brucei UDP-glucose:glycoprotein glucosyltransferase, including an unusually wide substrate specificity, ranging from Man5GlcNAc2 to Man9GlcNAc2 glycans, and an unusually high efficiency in vivo, quantitatively glucosylating the Asn263 N-glycan of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) 221 and 75% of all non-VSG N glycosylation sites. We also show that although Trypanosoma brucei UDP-glucose:glycoprotein glucosyltransferase is not essential for parasite growth at 37°C, it is essential for parasite growth and survival at 40°C. The null mutant was also shown to be hypersensitive to the effects of the N glycosylation inhibitor tunicamycin. Further analysis of bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei under normal conditions and stress conditions suggests that it does not have a classical unfolded protein response triggered by sensing unfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum. Rather, judging by its uniform Grp78/BiP levels, it appears to have an unregulated and constitutively active endoplasmic reticulum protein folding system. We suggest that the latter may be particularly appropriate for this organism, which has an extremely high flux of glycoproteins through its secretory pathway.
PMCID: PMC2643610  PMID: 19114500
4.  TbGT8 is a bifunctional glycosyltransferase that elaborates N-linked glycans on a protein phosphatase AcP115 and a GPI-anchor modifying glycan in Trypanosoma brucei 
Parasitology International  2014;63(3):513-518.
The procyclic form of Trypanosoma brucei expresses procyclin surface glycoproteins with unusual glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchor side chain structures that contain branched N-acetyllactosamine and lacto-N-biose units. The glycosyltransferase TbGT8 is involved in the synthesis of the branched side chain through its UDP-GlcNAc: βGal β1-3N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase activity. Here, we explored the role of TbGT8 in the mammalian bloodstream form of the parasite with a tetracycline-inducible conditional null T. brucei mutant for TbGT8. Under non-permissive conditions, the mutant showed significantly reduced binding to tomato lectin, which recognizes poly-N-acetyllactosamine-containing glycans. Lectin pull-down assays revealed differences between the wild type and TbGT8 null-mutant T. brucei, notably the absence of a broad protein band with an approximate molecular weight of 110 kDa in the mutant lysate. Proteomic analysis revealed that the band contained several glycoproteins, including the acidic ecto-protein phosphatase AcP115, a stage-specific glycoprotein in the bloodstream form of T. brucei. Western blotting with an anti-AcP115 antibody revealed that AcP115 was approximately 10 kDa smaller in the mutant. Enzymatic de-N-glycosylation demonstrated that the underlying protein cores were the same, suggesting that the 10-kDa difference was due to differences in N-linked glycans. Immunofluorescence microscopy revealed the colocalization of hemagglutinin epitope-tagged TbGT8 and the Golgi-associated protein GRASP. These data suggest that TbGT8 is involved in the construction of complex poly-N-acetyllactosamine-containing type N-linked and GPI-linked glycans in the Golgi of the bloodstream and procyclic parasite forms, respectively.
Graphical abstract
•TbGT8 is involved in N-linked glycan synthesis in the bloodstream form.•AcP115 is a target glycoprotein of TbGT8-dependent glycan processing.•TbGT8 is localized in the Golgi and modified by N-linked glycan(s).
PMCID: PMC4003530  PMID: 24508870
CBB, Coomassie brilliant blue; cKO, conditional double knockout; FP, flagellar pocket and lysosome/endosome system; GlcNAc, N-acetylglucosamine; GPI, glycosylphosphatidylinositol; HA, hemagglutinin epitope; LacNAc, N-acetyllactosamine; PBS, phosphate buffered saline; PNGase, peptide N-glycosidase; VSG, variant surface glycoprotein; Glycosyltransferase; Trypanosoma brucei; N-linked glycan; GPI-anchor; Tomato lectin
5.  Identification, subcellular localization, biochemical properties, and high-resolution crystal structure of Trypanosoma brucei UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase 
Glycobiology  2010;20(12):1619-1630.
The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of the cattle disease Nagana and human African sleeping sickness. Glycoproteins play key roles in the parasite’s survival and infectivity, and the de novo biosyntheses of the sugar nucleotides UDP-galactose (UDP-Gal), UDP-N-acetylglucosamine, and GDP-fucose have been shown to be essential for their growth. The only route to UDP-Gal in T. brucei is through the epimerization of UDP-glucose (UDP-Glc) by UDP-Glc 4′-epimerase. UDP-Glc is also the glucosyl donor for the unfolded glycoprotein glucosyltransferase (UGGT) involved in glycoprotein quality control in the endoplasmic reticulum and is the presumed donor for the synthesis of base J (β-d-glucosylhydroxymethyluracil), a rare deoxynucleotide found in telomere-proximal DNA in the bloodstream form of T. brucei. Considering that UDP-Glc plays such a central role in carbohydrate metabolism, we decided to characterize UDP-Glc biosynthesis in T. brucei. We identified and characterized the parasite UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase (TbUGP), responsible for the formation of UDP-Glc from glucose-1-phosphate and UTP, and localized the enzyme to the peroxisome-like glycosome organelles of the parasite. Recombinant TbUGP was shown to be enzymatically active and specific for glucose-1-phosphate. The high-resolution crystal structure was also solved, providing a framework for the design of potential inhibitors against the parasite enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3270307  PMID: 20724435
kinetoplastids; sugar nucleotide metabolism; Trypanosoma brucei; UDP-glucose; UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase
6.  Identification of a glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor-modifying β1-3 galactosyltransferase in Trypanosoma brucei 
Glycobiology  2014;25(4):438-447.
Trypanosoma brucei is the causative agent of human African sleeping sickness and the cattle disease nagana.  Trypanosoma brucei is dependent on glycoproteins for its survival and infectivity throughout its life cycle. Here we report the functional characterization of TbGT3, a glycosyltransferase expressed in the bloodstream and procyclic form of the parasite. Bloodstream and procyclic form TbGT3 conditional null mutants were created and both exhibited normal growth under permissive and nonpermissive conditions. Under nonpermissive conditions, the normal glycosylation of the major glycoprotein of bloodstream form T. brucei, the variant surface glycoprotein and the absence of major alterations in lectin binding to other glycoproteins suggested that the major function of TbGT3 occurs in the procyclic form of the parasite. Consistent with this, the major surface glycoprotein of the procyclic form, procyclin, exhibited a marked reduction in molecular weight due to changes in glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor side chains. Structural analysis of the mutant procyclin GPI anchors indicated that TbGT3 encodes a UDP-Gal: β-GlcNAc-GPI β1-3 Gal transferase. Despite the alterations in GPI anchor side chains, TbGT3 conditional null mutants remained infectious to tsetse flies under nonpermissive conditions.
PMCID: PMC4339879  PMID: 25467966
galactosyltransferase; GPI-anchor; procyclic form; TbGT3; Trypanosoma brucei
7.  Modeling of the N-Glycosylated Transferrin Receptor Suggests How Transferrin Binding Can Occur within the Surface Coat of Trypanosoma brucei 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(4):e1002618.
The transferrin receptor of bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei is a heterodimer encoded by expression site associated genes 6 and 7. This low-abundance glycoprotein with a single glycosylphosphatidylinositol membrane anchor and eight potential N-glycosylation sites is located in the flagellar pocket. The receptor is essential for the parasite, providing its only source of iron by scavenging host transferrin from the bloodstream. Here, we demonstrate that both receptor subunits contain endoglycosidase H-sensitive and endoglycosidase H-resistant N-glycans. Lectin blotting of the purified receptor and structural analysis of the released N-glycans revealed oligomannose and paucimannose structures but, contrary to previous suggestions, no poly-N-acetyllactosamine structures were found. Overlay experiments suggest that the receptor can bind to other trypanosome glycoproteins, which may explain this discrepancy. Nevertheless, these data suggest that a current model, in which poly-N-acetyllactosamine glycans are directly involved in receptor-mediated endocytosis in bloodstream form Trypanosoma brucei, should be revised. Sequential endoglycosidase H and peptide-N-glycosidase F treatment, followed by tryptic peptide analysis, allowed the mapping of oligomannose and paucimannose structures to four of the receptor N-glycosylation sites. These results are discussed with respect to the current model for protein N-glycosylation in the parasite. Finally, the glycosylation data allowed the creation of a molecular model for the parasite transferrin receptor. This model, when placed in the context of a model for the dense variant surface glycoprotein coat in which it is embedded, suggests that receptor N-glycosylation may play an important role in providing sufficient space for the approach and binding of transferrin to the receptor, without significantly disrupting the continuity of the protective variant surface glycoprotein coat.
Author Summary
The tsetse fly transmitted parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, scavenges iron from the bloodstream of the infected individual so that it can live, multiply and ultimately cause disease. To do this, it places a glycoprotein (a protein with carbohydrate chains attached) called the transferrin receptor on its surface to capture circulating human transferrin, an iron transport protein. It then internalizes transferrin receptor/transferrin complex and digests the transferrin part, releasing the iron for its own use. By analyzing the parasite transferrin receptor, we have been able to describe the carbohydrate chains of the transferrin receptor and thus complete a molecular model of this important glycoprotein. We have further built models of how we expect this low abundance glycoprotein will sit in the surface coat of the parasite, which is made of millions of copies of another glycoprotein. The results provide a ‘molecule's eye view’ of how the carbohydrate chains of the transferrin receptor provide the space necessary for the transferrin to bind to it without disrupting the protective coat.
PMCID: PMC3320590  PMID: 22496646
8.  Exposure of Trypanosoma brucei to an N-acetylglucosamine-Binding Lectin Induces VSG Switching and Glycosylation Defects Resulting in Reduced Infectivity 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(3):e0003612.
Trypanosoma brucei variant surface glycoproteins (VSG) are glycosylated by both paucimannose and oligomannose structures which are involved in the formation of a protective barrier against the immune system. Here, we report that the stinging nettle lectin (UDA), with predominant N-acetylglucosamine-binding specificity, interacts with glycosylated VSGs and kills parasites by provoking defects in endocytosis together with impaired cytokinesis. Prolonged exposure to UDA induced parasite resistance based on a diminished capacity to bind the lectin due to an enrichment of biantennary paucimannose and a reduction of triantennary oligomannose structures. Two molecular mechanisms involved in resistance were identified: VSG switching and modifications in N-glycan composition. Glycosylation defects were correlated with the down-regulation of the TbSTT3A and/or TbSTT3B genes (coding for oligosaccharyltransferases A and B, respectively) responsible for glycan specificity. Furthermore, UDA-resistant trypanosomes exhibited severely impaired infectivity indicating that the resistant phenotype entails a substantial fitness cost. The results obtained further support the modification of surface glycan composition resulting from down-regulation of the genes coding for oligosaccharyltransferases as a general resistance mechanism in response to prolonged exposure to carbohydrate-binding agents.
Author Summary
Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African trypanosomiasis, is covered by glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored glycoproteins, which shield parasites from effectors of the host immune system. The most abundant protein is the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG), which plays an essential role in antigenic variation and the ability of the parasite to evade the immune system. VSGs are N-glycosylated in a site-specific manner by different oligosaccharyltransferases giving rise to complex and mannose-rich N-glycans. In this study, we report that the carbohydrate binding agent, stinging nettle agglutinin (UDA, Urtica dioica), exhibits trypanocidal activity, impairs endocytosis, and cytokinesis and induces parasite lysis. We have investigated the mechanisms conferring resistance in order to understand UDA mode of action and found that resistant strains present changes in the expression of oligosaccharyltransferases, and modifications in the nature of the predominant VSG, therefore resulting in important changes in N-glycan composition. The modification in surface glycans gives rise to reduced infectivity in vivo further underscoring the role of glycosylation in parasite virulence. Our findings show that carbohydrate binding agents that bind effectively to surface glycoproteins can provide a novel avenue for design of drugs to combat African trypanosomiasis.
PMCID: PMC4351956  PMID: 25746926
9.  Identification and Functional Characterization of a Highly Divergent N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferase I (TbGnTI) in Trypanosoma brucei 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;289(13):9328-9339.
Background: Trypanosoma brucei expresses a highly glycosylated surface coat that is essential for parasite survival.
Results: The T. brucei gene TbGT11 encodes an N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I, the key enzyme for initiating the biosynthesis of complex N-glycans.
Conclusion: T. brucei GnTI is not a homologue of metazoan GnTI, but a highly divergent enzyme belonging to the β3-glycosyltransferase family.
Significance: Deeper understanding of T. brucei N-glycosylation pathway.
Trypanosoma brucei expresses a diverse repertoire of N-glycans, ranging from oligomannose and paucimannose structures to exceptionally large complex N-glycans. Despite the presence of the latter, no obvious homologues of known β1–4-galactosyltransferase or β1–2- or β1–6-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase genes have been found in the parasite genome. However, we previously reported a family of putative UDP-sugar-dependent glycosyltransferases with similarity to the mammalian β1–3-glycosyltransferase family. Here we characterize one of these genes, TbGT11, and show that it encodes a Golgi apparatus resident UDP-GlcNAc:α3-d-mannoside β1–2-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I activity (TbGnTI). The bloodstream-form TbGT11 null mutant exhibited significantly modified protein N-glycans but normal growth in vitro and infectivity to rodents. In contrast to multicellular organisms, where the GnTI reaction is essential for biosynthesis of both complex and hybrid N-glycans, T. brucei TbGT11 null mutants expressed atypical “pseudohybrid” glycans, indicating that TbGnTII activity is not dependent on prior TbGnTI action. Using a functional in vitro assay, we showed that TbGnTI transfers UDP-GlcNAc to biantennary Man3GlcNAc2, but not to triantennary Man5GlcNAc2, which is the preferred substrate for metazoan GnTIs. Sequence alignment reveals that the T. brucei enzyme is far removed from the metazoan GnTI family and suggests that the parasite has adapted the β3-glycosyltransferase family to catalyze β1–2 linkages.
PMCID: PMC3979372  PMID: 24550396
Glycobiology; Glycosyltransferases; Parasite; Post-translational Modification; Trypanosoma brucei; N-Acetylglucosamine
10.  Overelaborated synaptic architecture and reduced synaptomatrix glycosylation in a Drosophila classic galactosemia disease model 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2014;7(12):1365-1378.
Classic galactosemia (CG) is an autosomal recessive disorder resulting from loss of galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT), which catalyzes conversion of galactose-1-phosphate and uridine diphosphate (UDP)-glucose to glucose-1-phosphate and UDP-galactose, immediately upstream of UDP–N-acetylgalactosamine and UDP–N-acetylglucosamine synthesis. These four UDP-sugars are essential donors for driving the synthesis of glycoproteins and glycolipids, which heavily decorate cell surfaces and extracellular spaces. In addition to acute, potentially lethal neonatal symptoms, maturing individuals with CG develop striking neurodevelopmental, motor and cognitive impairments. Previous studies suggest that neurological symptoms are associated with glycosylation defects, with CG recently being described as a congenital disorder of glycosylation (CDG), showing defects in both N- and O-linked glycans. Here, we characterize behavioral traits, synaptic development and glycosylated synaptomatrix formation in a GALT-deficient Drosophila disease model. Loss of Drosophila GALT (dGALT) greatly impairs coordinated movement and results in structural overelaboration and architectural abnormalities at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Dietary galactose and mutation of galactokinase (dGALK) or UDP-glucose dehydrogenase (sugarless) genes are identified, respectively, as critical environmental and genetic modifiers of behavioral and cellular defects. Assaying the NMJ extracellular synaptomatrix with a broad panel of lectin probes reveals profound alterations in dGALT mutants, including depletion of galactosyl, N-acetylgalactosamine and fucosylated horseradish peroxidase (HRP) moieties, which are differentially corrected by dGALK co-removal and sugarless overexpression. Synaptogenesis relies on trans-synaptic signals modulated by this synaptomatrix carbohydrate environment, and dGALT-null NMJs display striking changes in heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) co-receptor and Wnt ligand levels, which are also corrected by dGALK co-removal and sugarless overexpression. These results reveal synaptomatrix glycosylation losses, altered trans-synaptic signaling pathway components, defective synaptogenesis and impaired coordinated movement in a CG neurological disease model.
PMCID: PMC4257005  PMID: 25326312
Congenital disorder of glycosylation (CDG); sugarless; Galactokinase; Synaptogenesis; Trans-synaptic signaling; WNT; HSPG; Neuromuscular junction
11.  Fate of Glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-Less Procyclin and Characterization of Sialylated Non-GPI-Anchored Surface Coat Molecules of Procyclic-Form Trypanosoma brucei▿ † ‡  
Eukaryotic Cell  2009;8(9):1407-1417.
A Trypanosoma brucei TbGPI12 null mutant that is unable to express cell surface procyclins and free glycosylphosphatidylinositols (GPI) revealed that these are not the only surface coat molecules of the procyclic life cycle stage. Here, we show that non-GPI-anchored procyclins are N-glycosylated, accumulate in the lysosome, and appear as proteolytic fragments in the medium. We also show, using lectin agglutination and galactose oxidase-NaB3H4 labeling, that the cell surface of the TbGPI12 null parasites contains glycoconjugates that terminate in sialic acid linked to galactose. Following desialylation, a high-apparent-molecular-weight glycoconjugate fraction was purified by ricin affinity chromatography and gel filtration and shown to contain mannose, galactose, N-acetylglucosamine, and fucose. The latter has not been previously reported in T. brucei glycoproteins. A proteomic analysis of this fraction revealed a mixture of polytopic transmembrane proteins, including P-type ATPase and vacuolar proton-translocating pyrophosphatase. Immunolocalization studies showed that both could be labeled on the surfaces of wild-type and TbGPI12 null cells. Neither galactose oxidase-NaB3H4 labeling of the non-GPI-anchored surface glycoconjugates nor immunogold labeling of the P-type ATPase was affected by the presence of procyclins in the wild-type cells, suggesting that the procyclins do not, by themselves, form a macromolecular barrier.
PMCID: PMC2747833  PMID: 19633269
12.  Sugar Nucleotide Pools of Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi, and Leishmania major▿ †  
Eukaryotic Cell  2007;6(8):1450-1463.
The cell surface glycoconjugates of trypanosomatid parasites are intimately involved in parasite survival, infectivity, and virulence in their insect vectors and mammalian hosts. Although there is a considerable body of work describing their structure, biosynthesis, and function, little is known about the sugar nucleotide pools that fuel their biosynthesis. In order to identify and quantify parasite sugar nucleotides, we developed an analytical method based on liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry using multiple reaction monitoring. This method was applied to the bloodstream and procyclic forms of Trypanosoma brucei, the epimastigote form of T. cruzi, and the promastigote form of Leishmania major. Five sugar nucleotides, GDP-α-d-mannose, UDP-α-d-N-acetylglucosamine, UDP-α-d-glucose, UDP-α-galactopyranose, and GDP-β-l-fucose, were common to all three species; one, UDP-α-d-galactofuranose, was common to T. cruzi and L. major; three, UDP-β-l-rhamnopyranose, UDP-α-d-xylose, and UDP-α-d-glucuronic acid, were found only in T. cruzi; and one, GDP-α-d-arabinopyranose, was found only in L. major. The estimated demands for each monosaccharide suggest that sugar nucleotide pools are turned over at very different rates, from seconds to hours. The sugar nucleotide survey, together with a review of the literature, was used to define the routes to these important metabolites and to annotate relevant genes in the trypanosomatid genomes.
PMCID: PMC1951125  PMID: 17557881
13.  The de novo and salvage pathways of GDP-mannose biosynthesis are both sufficient for the growth of bloodstream-form Trypanosoma brucei 
Molecular Microbiology  2012;84(2):340-351.
The sugar nucleotide GDP-mannose is essential for Trypanosoma brucei. Phosphomannose isomerase occupies a key position on the de novo pathway to GDP-mannose from glucose, just before intersection with the salvage pathway from free mannose. We identified the parasite phosphomannose isomerase gene, confirmed that it encodes phosphomannose isomerase activity and localized the endogenous enzyme to the glycosome. We also created a bloodstream-form conditional null mutant of phosphomannose isomerase to assess the relative roles of the de novo and salvage pathways of GDP-mannose biosynthesis. Phosphomannose isomerase was found to be essential for parasite growth. However, supplementation of the medium with low concentrations of mannose, including that found in human plasma, relieved this dependence. Therefore, we do not consider phosphomannose isomerase to be a viable drug target. We further established culture conditions where we can control glucose and mannose concentrations and perform steady-state [U-13C]-d-glucose labelling. Analysis of the isotopic sugar composition of the parasites variant surface glycoprotein synthesized in cells incubated in 5 mM [U-13C]-d-glucose in the presence and absence of unlabelled mannose showed that, under physiological conditions, about 80% of GDP-mannose synthesis comes from the de novo pathway and 20% from the salvage pathway.
PMCID: PMC3412276  PMID: 22375793
14.  A role for mouse sperm surface galactosyltransferase in sperm binding to the egg zona pellucida 
The Journal of Cell Biology  1982;95(2):574-579.
Past studies have suggested that mouse sperm surface galactosyltransferase may participate during fertilization by binding N- acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) residues in the zona pellucida. In this paper, we examined further the role of sperm surface galactosyltransferase in mouse fertilization. Two reagents that specifically perturb sperm surface galactosyltransferase activity both inhibit sperm-zona binding. The presence of the milk protein alpha- lactalbumin specifically modifies the substrate specificity of sperm galactosyltransferase away from GlcNAc and towards glucose and simultaneously inhibits sperm binding to the zona pellucida. Similarly, UDP-dialdehyde inhibits sperm binding to the zona pellucida and sperm surface galactosyl-transferase activity to identical degrees. Of five other sperm enzymes assayed, four are unaffected by UDP-dialdehyde, and one is affected only slightly. Covalent linkage of UDP-dialdehyde to sperm dramatically inhibits binding to eggs, while treatment of eggs with UDP-dialdehyde has no effect on sperm binding. Heat-solubilized or pronase-digested zona pellucida inhibit sperm-zona binding, and they can be glycosylated by sperm with UDP-galactose. Sperm are also able to glycosylate intact zona pellucida with UDP-galactose. Thus, solubilized and intact zona pellucida act as substrates for sperm surface GlcNAc:galactosyltransferases. Finally, pretreatment of eggs with beta- N-acetylglucosaminidase inhibits sperm binding by up to 86%, while under identical conditions, pretreatment with beta-galactosidase increases sperm binding by 55%. These studies, in conjunction with those of the preceding paper dealing with surface galactosyltransferase changes during capacitation, directly suggest that galactosyltransferase is at least one of the components necessary for sperm binding to the zona pellucida.
PMCID: PMC2112949  PMID: 6815212
15.  Molecular analysis of a UDP-GlcNAc:polypeptide α-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase implicated in the initiation of mucin-type O-glycosylation in Trypanosoma cruzi 
Glycobiology  2009;19(8):918-933.
Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas disease, is surrounded by a mucin coat that plays important functions in parasite survival/invasion and is extensively O-glycosylated by Golgi and cell surface glycosyltransferases. The addition of the first sugar, α-N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) linked to Threonine (Thr), is catalyzed by a polypeptide α-GlcNAc-transferase (pp-αGlcNAcT) which is unstable to purification. Here, a comparison of the genomes of T. cruzi and Dictyostelium discoideum, an amoebazoan which also forms this linkage, identified two T. cruzi genes (TcOGNT1 and TcOGNT2) that might encode this activity. Though neither was able to complement the Dictyostelium gene, expression in the trypanosomatid Leishmania tarentolae resulted in elevated levels of UDP-[3H]GlcNAc:Thr-peptide GlcNAc-transferase activity and UDP-[3H]GlcNAc breakdown activity. The ectodomain of TcOGNT2 was expressed and the secreted protein was found to retain both activities after extensive purification away from other proteins and the endogenous activity. Product analysis showed that 3H was transferred as GlcNAc to a hydroxyamino acid, and breakdown was due to hydrolysis. Both activities were specific for UDP-GlcNAc relative to UDP-GalNAc and were abolished by active site point mutations that inactivate a related Dictyostelium enzyme and distantly related animal pp-αGalNAcTs. The peptide preference and the alkaline pH optimum were indistinguishable from those of the native activity in T. cruzi microsomes. The results suggest that mucin-type O-glycosylation in T. cruzi is initiated by conserved members of CAZy family GT60, which is homologous to the GT27 family of animal pp-αGalNAcTs that initiate mucin-type O-glycosylation in animals.
PMCID: PMC2704902  PMID: 19468051
Chagas disease; Dictyostelium; GlcNAcT; polypeptide αGlcNAc-transferase; trypanosomatid
16.  Distinct Phenotypes Caused by Mutation of MSH2 in Trypanosome Insect and Mammalian Life Cycle Forms Are Associated with Parasite Adaptation to Oxidative Stress 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2015;9(6):e0003870.
DNA repair mechanisms are crucial for maintenance of the genome in all organisms, including parasites where successful infection is dependent both on genomic stability and sequence variation. MSH2 is an early acting, central component of the Mismatch Repair (MMR) pathway, which is responsible for the recognition and correction of base mismatches that occur during DNA replication and recombination. In addition, recent evidence suggests that MSH2 might also play an important, but poorly understood, role in responding to oxidative damage in both African and American trypanosomes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To investigate the involvement of MMR in the oxidative stress response, null mutants of MSH2 were generated in Trypanosoma brucei procyclic forms and in Trypanosoma cruzi epimastigote forms. Unexpectedly, the MSH2 null mutants showed increased resistance to H2O2 exposure when compared with wild type cells, a phenotype distinct from the previously observed increased sensitivity of T. brucei bloodstream forms MSH2 mutants. Complementation studies indicated that the increased oxidative resistance of procyclic T. brucei was due to adaptation to MSH2 loss. In both parasites, loss of MSH2 was shown to result in increased tolerance to alkylation by MNNG and increased accumulation of 8-oxo-guanine in the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, indicating impaired MMR. In T. cruzi, loss of MSH2 also increases the parasite capacity to survive within host macrophages.
Taken together, these results indicate MSH2 displays conserved, dual roles in MMR and in the response to oxidative stress. Loss of the latter function results in life cycle dependent differences in phenotypic outcomes in T. brucei MSH2 mutants, most likely because of the greater burden of oxidative stress in the insect stage of the parasite.
Author Summary
Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi are protozoa parasites that cause sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, respectively, two neglected tropical diseases endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The high genetic diversity found in the T. cruzi population and the highly diverse repertoire of surface glycoprotein genes found in T. brucei are crucial factors that ensure a successful infection in their hosts. Besides responding to host immune responses, these parasites must deal with various sources of oxidative stress that can cause DNA damage. Thus, by determining the right balance between genomic stability and genetic variation, DNA repair pathways have a big impact in the ability of these parasites to maintain infection. This study is focused on the role of a DNA mismatch repair (MMR) protein named MSH2 in protecting these parasites’ DNA against oxidative assault. Using knock-out mutants, we showed that, besides acting in the MMR pathway as a key protein that recognizes and repairs base mismatches, insertions or deletions that can occur after DNA replication, MSH2 has an additional role in the oxidative stress response. Importantly, this extra role of MSH2 seems to be independent of other MMR components and dependent on the parasite developmental stage.
PMCID: PMC4470938  PMID: 26083967
17.  T. brucei Infection Reduces B Lymphopoiesis in Bone Marrow and Truncates Compensatory Splenic Lymphopoiesis through Transitional B-Cell Apoptosis 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(6):e1002089.
African trypanosomes of the Trypanosoma brucei species are extracellular protozoan parasites that cause the deadly disease African trypanosomiasis in humans and contribute to the animal counterpart, Nagana. Trypanosome clearance from the bloodstream is mediated by antibodies specific for their Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) coat antigens. However, T. brucei infection induces polyclonal B cell activation, B cell clonal exhaustion, sustained depletion of mature splenic Marginal Zone B (MZB) and Follicular B (FoB) cells, and destruction of the B-cell memory compartment. To determine how trypanosome infection compromises the humoral immune defense system we used a C57BL/6 T. brucei AnTat 1.1 mouse model and multicolor flow cytometry to document B cell development and maturation during infection. Our results show a more than 95% reduction in B cell precursor numbers from the CLP, pre-pro-B, pro-B, pre-B and immature B cell stages in the bone marrow. In the spleen, T. brucei induces extramedullary B lymphopoiesis as evidenced by significant increases in HSC-LMPP, CLP, pre-pro-B, pro-B and pre-B cell populations. However, final B cell maturation is abrogated by infection-induced apoptosis of transitional B cells of both the T1 and T2 populations which is not uniquely dependent on TNF-, Fas-, or prostaglandin-dependent death pathways. Results obtained from ex vivo co-cultures of living bloodstream form trypanosomes and splenocytes demonstrate that trypanosome surface coat-dependent contact with T1/2 B cells triggers their deletion. We conclude that infection-induced and possibly parasite-contact dependent deletion of transitional B cells prevents replenishment of mature B cell compartments during infection thus contributing to a loss of the host's capacity to sustain antibody responses against recurring parasitemic waves.
Author Summary
African trypanosomiasis caused by Trypanosoma brucei species is fatal in both humans and animals and cannot be combated by vaccination because of extensive parasite antigenic variation. Effective trypanosome control and clearance from the bloodstream involves the action of antibodies specific for the parasite's highly diverse variable surface glycoprotein antigens. However, experimental infections in mice have shown that trypanosomiasis elicits a rapid process of B cell exhaustion and loss of protective antibody responses. Indeed, both marginal zone B cells, the first line of defense against blood-borne pathogens like T. brucei parasites, and follicular B cells, which are the major source for developing high-affinity antibody-producing plasma cells and memory B cells, become depleted during infection. In addition, existing B-cell memory, both against parasite antigens and non related pathogens, is destroyed early on in infection. Here, we demonstrate that during infection, B cell development is decreased in the bone marrow and early B cell development is taken over by the spleen. However, full maturation of developing B cells is abrogated by the occurrence of transitional B cell apoptosis. This impairs the replenishment of the mature marginal zone and follicular B cell pools and prevents the buildup of protective immunity against successive parasitemic waves.
PMCID: PMC3128123  PMID: 21738467
18.  Histone H1 Plays a Role in Heterochromatin Formation and VSG Expression Site Silencing in Trypanosoma brucei 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(11):e1003010.
The African sleeping sickness parasite Trypanosoma brucei evades the host immune system through antigenic variation of its variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) coat. Although the T. brucei genome contains ∼1500 VSGs, only one VSG is expressed at a time from one of about 15 subtelomeric VSG expression sites (ESs). For antigenic variation to work, not only must the vast VSG repertoire be kept silent in a genome that is mainly constitutively transcribed, but the frequency of VSG switching must be strictly controlled. Recently it has become clear that chromatin plays a key role in silencing inactive ESs, thereby ensuring monoallelic expression of VSG. We investigated the role of the linker histone H1 in chromatin organization and ES regulation in T. brucei. T. brucei histone H1 proteins have a different domain structure to H1 proteins in higher eukaryotes. However, we show that they play a key role in the maintenance of higher order chromatin structure in bloodstream form T. brucei as visualised by electron microscopy. In addition, depletion of histone H1 results in chromatin becoming generally more accessible to endonucleases in bloodstream but not in insect form T. brucei. The effect on chromatin following H1 knock-down in bloodstream form T. brucei is particularly evident at transcriptionally silent ES promoters, leading to 6–8 fold derepression of these promoters. T. brucei histone H1 therefore appears to be important for the maintenance of repressed chromatin in bloodstream form T. brucei. In particular H1 plays a role in downregulating silent ESs, arguing that H1-mediated chromatin functions in antigenic variation in T. brucei.
Author Summary
Trypanosoma brucei causes African sleeping sickness, endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Bloodstream form T. brucei is covered with a dense coat of variant surface glycoprotein (VSG). Only one VSG is expressed at a time out of a vast repertoire of ∼1500 VSGs. The active VSG is transcribed in a telomeric VSG expression site (ES), and VSG switching allows immune evasion. Exactly how monoallelic exclusion of VSG ESs operates, and how switching between ESs is mediated remains mysterious, although epigenetics and chromatin structure clearly play a major role. The linker histone H1 is thought to orchestrate higher order chromatin structure in eukaryotes, but its exact function is unclear. We investigated the role of histone H1 in the regulation of antigenic variation in T. brucei. We show that histone H1 is associated with chromatin and is required for higher order chromatin structure. Depletion of histone H1 results in derepression of silent VSG ES promoters, indicating that H1-mediated chromatin functions in antigenic variation in T. brucei.
PMCID: PMC3486875  PMID: 23133390
19.  The Phosphoarginine Energy-Buffering System of Trypanosoma brucei Involves Multiple Arginine Kinase Isoforms with Different Subcellular Locations 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65908.
Phosphagen energy-buffering systems play an essential role in regulating the cellular energy homeostasis in periods of high-energy demand or energy supply fluctuations. Here we describe the phosphoarginine/arginine kinase system of the kinetoplastid parasite Trypanosoma brucei, consisting of three highly similar arginine kinase isoforms (TbAK1-3). Immunofluorescence microscopy using myc-tagged protein versions revealed that each isoform is located in a specific subcellular compartment: TbAK1 is exclusively found in the flagellum, TbAK2 in the glycosome, and TbAK3 in the cytosol of T. brucei. The flagellar location of TbAK1 is dependent on a 22 amino acid long N-terminal sequence, which is sufficient for targeting a GFP-fusion protein to the trypanosome flagellum. The glycosomal location of TbAK2 is in agreement with the presence of a conserved peroxisomal targeting signal, the C-terminal tripeptide ‘SNL’. TbAK3 lacks any apparent targeting sequences and is accordingly located in the cytosol of the parasite. Northern blot analysis indicated that each TbAK isoform is differentially expressed in bloodstream and procyclic forms of T. brucei, while the total cellular arginine kinase activity was 3-fold higher in bloodstream form trypanosomes. These results suggest a substantial change in the temporal and spatial energy requirements during parasite differentiation. Increased arginine kinase activity improved growth of procyclic form T. brucei during oxidative challenges with hydrogen peroxide. Elimination of the total cellular arginine kinase activity by RNA interference significantly decreased growth (>90%) of procyclic form T. brucei under standard culture conditions and was lethal for this life cycle stage in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. The putative physiological roles of the different TbAK isoforms in T. brucei are further discussed.
PMCID: PMC3679164  PMID: 23776565
20.  Trypanosoma brucei adenine-phosphoribosyltransferases mediate adenine salvage and aminopurinol susceptibility but not adenine toxicity☆ 
Graphical abstract
•African trypanosomes possess two distinct adenine phosphoribosyltransferases.•Trypanosoma brucei TbAPRT1 is cytosolic, TbAPRT2 localizes to the glycosome.•Aprt1,2 null mutants are viable but do not incorporate adenine into nucleotides.•Aprt1,2 null mutants are resistant to aminopurinol but still sensitive to adenine.•Aminopurinol is a trypanocide with submicromolar activity against T. brucei.
African trypanosomes, like all obligate parasitic protozoa, cannot synthesize purines de novo and import purines from their hosts to build nucleic acids. The purine salvage pathways of Trypanosoma brucei being redundant, none of the involved enzymes is likely to be essential. Nevertheless they can be of pharmacological interest due to their role in activation of purine nucleobase or nucleoside analogues, which only become toxic when converted to nucleotides. Aminopurine antimetabolites, in particular, are potent trypanocides and even adenine itself is toxic to trypanosomes at elevated concentrations. Here we report on the T. brucei adenine phosphoribosyltransferases TbAPRT1 and TbAPRT2, encoded by the two genes Tb927.7.1780 and Tb927.7.1790, located in tandem on chromosome seven. The duplication is syntenic in all available Trypanosoma genomes but not in Leishmania. While TbAPRT1 is cytosolic, TbAPRT2 possesses a glycosomal targeting signal and co-localizes with the glycosomal marker aldolase. Interestingly, the distribution of glycosomal targeting signals among trypanosomatid adenine phosphoribosyltransferases is not consistent with their phylogeny, indicating that the acquisition of adenine salvage to the glycosome happened after the radiation of Trypanosoma. Double null mutant T. brucei Δtbaprt1,2 exhibited no growth phenotype but no longer incorporated exogenous adenine into the nucleotide pool. This, however, did not reduce their sensitivity to adenine. The Δtbaprt1,2 trypanosomes were resistant to the adenine isomer aminopurinol, indicating that it is activated by phosphoribosyl transfer. Aminopurinol was about 1000-fold more toxic to bloodstream-form T. brucei than the corresponding hypoxanthine isomer allopurinol. Aminopurinol uptake was not dependent on the aminopurine permease P2 that has been implicated in drug resistance.
PMCID: PMC3940079  PMID: 24596669
Adenine phosphoribosyltransferase; African trypanosomes; Purine salvage; Aminopurinol
21.  Phosphoglucomutase is absent in Trypanosoma brucei and redundantly substituted by phosphomannomutase and phospho-N-acetylglucosamine mutase 
Molecular Microbiology  2012;85(3):513-534.
The enzymes phosphomannomutase (PMM), phospho-N-acetylglucosamine mutase (PAGM) and phosphoglucomutase (PGM) reversibly catalyse the transfer of phosphate between the C6 and C1 hydroxyl groups of mannose, N-acetylglucosamine and glucose respectively. Although genes for a candidate PMM and a PAGM enzymes have been found in the Trypanosoma brucei genome, there is, surprisingly, no candidate gene for PGM. The TbPMM and TbPAGM genes were cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli and the TbPMM enzyme was crystallized and its structure solved at 1.85 Å resolution. Antibodies to the recombinant proteins localized endogenous TbPMM to glycosomes in the bloodstream form of the parasite, while TbPAGM localized to both the cytosol and glycosomes. Both recombinant enzymes were able to interconvert glucose-phosphates, as well as acting on their own definitive substrates. Analysis of sugar nucleotide levels in parasites with TbPMM or TbPAGM knocked down by RNA interference (RNAi) suggests that, in vivo, PGM activity is catalysed by both enzymes. This is the first example in any organism of PGM activity being completely replaced in this way and it explains why, uniquely, T. brucei has been able to lose its PGM gene. The RNAi data for TbPMM also showed that this is an essential gene for parasite growth.
PMCID: PMC3465800  PMID: 22676716
22.  UDP-Galactose 4′-Epimerase Activities toward UDP-Gal and UDP-GalNAc Play Different Roles in the Development of Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(5):e1002721.
In both humans and Drosophila melanogaster, UDP-galactose 4′-epimerase (GALE) catalyzes two distinct reactions, interconverting UDP-galactose (UDP-gal) and UDP-glucose (UDP-glc) in the final step of the Leloir pathway of galactose metabolism, and also interconverting UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine (UDP-galNAc) and UDP-N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-glcNAc). All four of these UDP-sugars serve as vital substrates for glycosylation in metazoans. Partial loss of GALE in humans results in the spectrum disorder epimerase deficiency galactosemia; partial loss of GALE in Drosophila melanogaster also results in galactose-sensitivity, and complete loss in Drosophila is embryonic lethal. However, whether these outcomes in both humans and flies result from loss of one GALE activity, the other, or both has remained unknown. To address this question, we uncoupled the two activities in a Drosophila model, effectively replacing the endogenous dGALE with prokaryotic transgenes, one of which (Escherichia coli GALE) efficiently interconverts only UDP-gal/UDP-glc, and the other of which (Plesiomonas shigelloides wbgU) efficiently interconverts only UDP-galNAc/UDP-glcNAc. Our results demonstrate that both UDP-gal and UDP-galNAc activities of dGALE are required for Drosophila survival, although distinct roles for each activity can be seen in specific windows of developmental time or in response to a galactose challenge. By extension, these data also suggest that both activities might play distinct and essential roles in humans.
Author Summary
In this manuscript we apply a fruit fly model to explore the relative contributions of each of two different activities attributed to a single enzyme—UDP-galactose 4′-epimerase (GALE); partial impairment of human GALE results in the potentially severe metabolic disorder epimerase deficiency galactosemia. One GALE activity involves interconverting UDP-galactose and UDP-glucose in the Leloir pathway of galactose metabolism; the other activity involves interconverting UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine and UDP-N-acetylglucosamine. We have previously demonstrated that complete loss of GALE is embryonic lethal in fruit flies, but it was unclear which GALE activity loss was responsible for the outcome. Using genetically modified fruit flies, we were able to remove or give back each GALE activity individually at different times in development and observe the consequences. Our results demonstrate that both GALE activities are essential, although they play different roles at different times in development. These results provide insight into the normal functions of GALE and also have implications for diagnosis and intervention in epimerase deficiency galactosemia.
PMCID: PMC3359975  PMID: 22654673
23.  Intracellular Trafficking and Glycobiology of TbPDI2, a Stage-Specific Protein Disulfide Isomerase in Trypanosoma brucei 
Eukaryotic Cell  2013;12(1):132-141.
Trypanosoma brucei protein disulfide isomerase 2 (TbPDI2) is a bloodstream stage-specific lumenal endoplasmic reticulum (ER) glycoprotein. ER localization is dependent on the TbPDI2 C-terminal tetrapeptide (KQDL) and is mediated by TbERD2, an orthologue of the yeast ER retrieval receptor. Consistent with this function, TbERD2 localizes prominently to ER exit sites, and RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown results in specific secretion of a surrogate ER retention reporter, BiPN:KQDL. TbPDI2 is highly N-glycosylated and is reactive with tomato lectin, suggesting the presence of poly-N-acetyllactosamine modifications, which are common on lyso/endosomal proteins in trypanosomes but are inconsistent with ER localization. However, TbPDI2 is reactive with tomato lectin immediately following biosynthesis—far too rapidly for transport to the Golgi compartment, the site of poly-N-acetyllactosamine addition. TbPDI2 also fails to react with Erythrina cristagalli lectin, confirming the absence of terminal N-acetyllactosamine units. We propose that tomato lectin binds the Manβ1-4GlcNAcβ1-4GlcNAc trisaccharide core of paucimannose glycans on both newly synthesized and mature TbPDI2. Consistent with this proposal, α-mannosidase treatment renders oligomannose N-glycans on the T. brucei cathepsin L orthologue TbCatL reactive with tomato lectin. These findings resolve contradictory evidence on the location and glycobiology of TbPDI2 and provide a cautionary note on the use of tomato lectin as a poly-N-acetyllactosamine-specific reagent.
PMCID: PMC3535847  PMID: 23159520
24.  The lipid-linked oligosaccharide donor specificities of Trypanosoma brucei oligosaccharyltransferases 
Glycobiology  2012;22(5):696-703.
We recently presented a model for site-specific protein N-glycosylation in Trypanosoma brucei whereby the TbSTT3A oligosaccharyltransferase (OST) first selectively transfers biantennary Man5GlcNAc2 from the lipid-linked oligosaccharide (LLO) donor Man5GlcNAc2-PP-Dol to N-glycosylation sequons in acidic to neutral peptide sequences and TbSTT3B selectively transfers triantennary Man9GlcNAc2 to any remaining sequons. In this paper, we investigate the specificities of the two OSTs for their preferred LLO donors by glycotyping the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) synthesized by bloodstream-form T. brucei TbALG12 null mutants. The TbALG12 gene encodes the α1-6-mannosyltransferase that converts Man7GlcNAc2-PP-Dol to Man8GlcNAc2-PP-Dol. The VSG synthesized by the TbALG12 null mutant in the presence and the absence of α-mannosidase inhibitors was characterized by electrospray mass spectrometry both intact and as pronase glycopetides. The results show that TbSTT3A is able to transfer Man7GlcNAc2 as well as Man5GlcNAc2 to its preferred acidic glycosylation site at Asn263 and that, in the absence of Man9GlcNAc2-PP-Dol, TbSTT3B transfers both Man7GlcNAc2 and Man5GlcNAc2 to the remaining site at Asn428, albeit with low efficiency. These data suggest that the preferences of TbSTT3A and TbSTT3B for their LLO donors are based on the c-branch of the Man9GlcNAc2 oligosaccharide, such that the presence of the c-branch prevents recognition and/or transfer by TbSTT3A, whereas the presence of the c-branch enhances recognition and/or transfer by TbSTT3B.
PMCID: PMC3311286  PMID: 22241825
N-glycosylation; oligosaccharyltransferase; STT3; Trypanosoma brucei
25.  Telomere Length Affects the Frequency and Mechanism of Antigenic Variation in Trypanosoma brucei 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(8):e1002900.
Trypanosoma brucei is a master of antigenic variation and immune response evasion. Utilizing a genomic repertoire of more than 1000 Variant Surface Glycoprotein-encoding genes (VSGs), T. brucei can change its protein coat by “switching” from the expression of one VSG to another. Each active VSG is monoallelically expressed from only one of approximately 15 subtelomeric sites. Switching VSG expression occurs by three predominant mechanisms, arguably the most significant of which is the non-reciprocal exchange of VSG containing DNA by duplicative gene conversion (GC). How T. brucei orchestrates its complex switching mechanisms remains to be elucidated. Recent work has demonstrated that an exogenous DNA break in the active site could initiate a GC based switch, yet the source of the switch-initiating DNA lesion under natural conditions is still unknown. Here we investigated the hypothesis that telomere length directly affects VSG switching. We demonstrate that telomerase deficient strains with short telomeres switch more frequently than genetically identical strains with long telomeres and that, when the telomere is short, switching preferentially occurs by GC. Our data supports the hypothesis that a short telomere at the active VSG expression site results in an increase in subtelomeric DNA breaks, which can initiate GC based switching. In addition to their significance for T. brucei and telomere biology, the findings presented here have implications for the many diverse pathogens that organize their antigenic genes in subtelomeric regions.
Author Summary
A broad array of human pathogens (including bacteria, fungi and parasites) vary the proteins on their cell surface to escape the immune response of their hosts. This process, called antigenic variation, relies on a repertoire of variant protein encoding genes in the genome and the organism's ability to accurately switch from the expression of one variant gene to another. A common theme in both the diversification of these variant genes and the mechanisms required for their expression is that they are often located near the ends of chromosomes. The ends of chromosomes are protected by structures called telomeres. Regions near the telomere are referred to as subtelomeric and are commonly thought to be comparatively unstable DNA sites. It is therefore intriguing that organisms that rely on antigenic variation for survival would organize their critical survival genes in these sites. Trypanosoma brucei is a model organism for the study of antigenic variation. The causative agent of African sleeping sickness, this unicellular parasite possesses an antigenic repertoire of unparalleled diversity, which can only be expressed from specific subtelomeric sites. Here we use the power of the T. brucei model to investigate the effect of telomere length on antigenic variation.
PMCID: PMC3431348  PMID: 22952449

Results 1-25 (781719)